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Booker Taliaferro Washington was one of the primary African-American leaders of the 19th and the 20th centuries. Mr. Washington is best known as the Educator. He was the founding father of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (Campbell, 2017). Washington was born in 1850 in Virginia during the slavery era. He was from the latest generation of the Blacks who were born into slavery, burdened in the South by the Jim Crow prejudiced regulations and the marginalization in the late 19th and early 20th eras. He endured this period and personally placed himself into school after the civil war in America. He grew to be a prominent person among the African-America community. He was an actor, the president’s advisor, an activist, and an educator. He focused his educational energy on training the African-Americans on agriculture.
Mr. Washington was born in Virginia to a slave woman known as Jane. Jane, his mother, worked at the James Burroughs plantation in Southwestern Virginia. She was also an African American woman who had been enslaved for a long time. Washington was never certain about the exact date was born, however, he knew it was in the 1850s. Upon his death, his tomb read 1856. Washington at this period only had a single name. He was only known as Booker. He did not know his father. Rumor had it that he was a white man from a neighboring plantation. His father never showed up nor offer any assistance to his mother. During this period, slavery was so intense. Nevertheless, the year 1865 was their year. This is the day when slaves received their freedom as a results of the American troops occupying the area. After this, Jane moved with her family to West Virginia to join her husband, Ferguson Washington, who had escaped slavery during the civil war. The illiterate boy, Booker, began to teach himself how to read. He later decided to join a school where they required a surname. He immediately adopted his step-father’s name, Washington. Then his mother told him about the name, Taliaferro, which she had given him upon his birth. Thus, Booker’s name became Booker Taliaferro Washington.
Booker T. Washington attended the Malden institution in West Virginia where he completed grade school. In 1872, he sorted to further his studies. He walked 500 miles to the Hampton Agricultural Institution. He took odd jobs along the way to survive. On his arrival in the institution, he persuaded the administration to admit him and took a job as a janitor to pay for his tuition fees. During the time he was working as a janitor, he was identified and sponsored by General Samuel Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong was the headmaster of Hampton, and he offered Washington a scholarship, and from the moment he became the mentor of Washington. The General was a strong supporter of providing education to the newly freed African-American slaves. In 1875, Washington graduated with high marks from the school and went back to his grade school in Malden where he taught for two years. He was chosen to speak at the Hampton 1879 graduations ceremonies where Armstrong offered him a job as a teacher. In 1881, the Alabama legislature signed a 2000 dollars to start a school for the Blacks (Drake, 2016). The school was to be called Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institution. Armstrong was asked to assign the school to a white man to become the leader of the school. However, he instead chose Washington to lead the school. The first classes of the institution were at an old church, but the school later became bigger. This was after the active campaigns for the school by Washington. He traveled America advertising the school and assuring the whites that the institution was not a threat to their economy. The institution is currently known as the Tuskegee University, and Washington is still remembered as the founder of the school.
Life Successes and Controversies of Washington
At the Tuskegee institution, Washington was both a teacher and a mentor. He taught the African Americans about agricultural prosperity. Also, he advised the African Americans on how to prosper in the midst of the discriminative white community. He reminded them that they were in the territory of the White population and therefore subordination was a necessary evil. The African-Americans were to humble themselves until they gained enough knowledge, economic stability and power to fight back from the discrimination of the Caucasians. It was true that this period was a tough period for the colored group. They were denied most of their rights because the Whites feared close competition from them (Zangrando, 2013). The white community was aware of the strength of the Black Americans. This strength blended but intelligence would strife tremendous success. Thus, the white society would always depress this intelligence to ensure the Blacks could not offer economic competition. Mr. Washington was aware of the motifs of the White community and their fears. Thus, he could advise the blacks to lay low and first gain enough knowledge to enable them to achieve total economic freedom from the Caucasians.
However, some of the African-American people disagreed with the mentorship methods of Washington. These disagreements led to the Feud that prolonged between Washington and W.E.B Du Bois, who was a professor at the University of Atlanta (Gatewood, 2013). The man claimed that Washington was a fraud and a traitor. According to him, African-Americans required advocators who would fight for their equal rights as stated in the 14th amendment. W.E.B Du Bois felt like Washington excluded so many Blacks from his quest for freedom. However much Washington was a peacemaker, there was some truth behind this. There is the occasion where the African-Americans rights were excluded from his speeches. Thus, many Blacks looked at him as a pleaser of the White community.
Washington received a lot of honorable moments during his rise. Firstly, he was sponsored by a white man throughout his higher learning education. Then, the same white man, Mr. Armstrong appointed him against the wishes of the white community to lead a colored school. Later on in his life, he became an advisor of the president, President Theodore Roosevelt and his successor President William Howard Taft. President Theodore personally invited Washington to the White House to dine with him. A depiction that meant they were equal. He was the first Black man in the history of America to be granted such a great honor (Jackson, 2018). This action by President Theodore caused a lot of strife among the White community who thought the Blacks were fast taking over their territory. They demanded that all African-American People be demoted to their rightful place.
Booker T. Washington made the Tuskegee University a success during his leadership in the institution. Before his death, the school was already grown with a total of 1500 students and 100 well-equipped classes. The total worth of the school at this time was approximately $2 million. The school faculty membership was at 200 teachers. He put all of his effort in developing the school and empowering the students. His daily theme of teaching was patience, humility, and enthusiasm. For this reason, he reminded the African-Americans that gaining economic stability would make progress, but they would finally attain the position when the White community would respect them.
Death and Legacy
Booker T. Washington died on the 14th of November, 1915. He succumbed to heart failure. The man was born at a time when racial discrimination among the Black Americans was at its peak. The community was also bombarded with slavery. He, however, managed to fight and pursue his education to a higher learning level. However, many disagreed with his methods of fighting for the rights of the Black community (Washington, Harlan & Smock, 2015). His manner was peaceful and slow coming. Many blacks accused him of betraying them and siding with the white population. For this reason, Washington lost his influence by the year 1913 when many blacks rose to fight for equal rights for their community. However, he remained the head of the Tuskegee University until his death. Booker would then succumb to heart failure at the age of 59. Nevertheless, this is a man whose legacy would remain to be celebrated. He was a renowned man who struggled through hardship to become one of the prominent people history would remember for decades to come.
- Campbell, M. L. (2017). Booker T. Washington Goes West. University of North Carolina Press. doi:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469629278.003.0006
- Drake, W. (2016). Booker T. Washington: Racial Pragmatism Revisited. Research in Race and Ethnic Relations, 33-59. doi:10.1016/s0195-7449(06)13003-2
- Gatewood, W. B. (2013). Louis R. Harlan, Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1901Louis R. Harlan, ed., The Booker T. Washington Press. Volume ILouis R. Harlan, ed., The Booker T. Washington Papers. Volume II, 1860-1889. The Journal of Negro History, 58(2), 204-207. doi:10.2307/2716830
- Jackson, D. H. (2018). Booker T. Washington and the Psychology of “Black Survivalism”. Booker T. Washington and the Struggle against White Supremacy, 31-52. doi:10.1057/9780230615502_3
- Washington, B. T., Harlan, L. R., & Smock, R. (2015). The Booker T. Washington papers: Volume 14. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
- Zangrando, R. L. (2013). Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856-1910, and: The Booker T. Washington Papers. Volume I, The Autobiographical Writings, and: The Booker T. Washington Papers. Volume II, 1860-89 (review). Civil War History, 19(4), 353-356. doi:10.1353/cwh.1973.0051